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Groups Net $3 Million for Armenian Victims

December 22, 1988|ESTHER SCHRADER | Times Staff Writer

Bolstered by donations from thousands of local Armenians, a coalition of Glendale-based Armenian organizations has raised more than $3 million for relief efforts after the devastating earthquake that struck their homeland 2 weeks ago.

The drive is one of several under way in the Armenian community throughout the United States. It is being coordinated by the Armenian Relief Society under the auspices of a branch of the Armenian church with a strong Glendale following.

In addition to that effort, some Glendale doctors have sent more than 48 tons of medical supplies and sophisticated medical equipment to the earthquake-stricken region. The group, Medical Outreach for Armenians, has been supplying Armenian hospitals with such equipment for 4 years. Its founder, a Glendale-based orthopedic surgeon, was on the first U.S. government plane to reach Armenia after the quake.

Red Cross officials, however, Monday called for donors to suspend aid shipments until the supplies that have poured into the region can be better distributed. Andrei Kisselev, undersecretary-general of the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said food and clothing are no longer needed.

There were reports Tuesday that Several non-Armenian groups in Glendale have raised money to help survivors of the earthquake. A spokesman for a small Glendale ministry, World Emergency Relief, said the organization has gathered $1.3 million worth of relief supplies. And Glendale high school students have raised more than $1,600 toward the cause.

About 30 volunteers have been staffing the phones each day at the Armenian Relief Society offices, headquarters of the international relief organization in the western United States. The offices have been open around the clock since the temblor rumbled through the Caucasus Mountains on Dec. 7.

But Armenian leaders said the response to relief appeals has slowed in recent days as tragic pictures from the earthquake-stricken region move off the front pages of newspapers and out of daily newscasts.

'Response Is Dying'

"At the beginning it's so spontaneous but then you feel the response is dying, so you go to the second step--you mail lots of letters and put an ad in the best-known local paper," said Varsenig DerMegerdichian, chair of the ARS Western Regional Executive Committee, based in Glendale. "Now we have to come up with some other things to keep this thing going."

In the wake of the 6.9 magnitude quake Armenian leaders said there is years of work to be done. Official Soviet estimates put the death toll from the quake at 55,000 and those left homeless at half a million.

But unofficial estimates are much higher. At a community meeting in Glendale on Sunday, Vartkes Najarian, the doctor who traveled from Glendale to the region, echoed the view of many foreign relief workers that deaths exceed 100,000 and that more than 700,000 are homeless.

Tally of Losses

Soviet officials have begun a detailed tally of damage: 58 villages, 380 educational sites, 90 collective farms, 209 state farms, 86 million square feet of housing space and 84 rural hospitals and medical clinics.

To help repair the devastation, Armenian groups are working furiously on fund drives. Armenian leaders say they cannot raise money fast enough.

Last week, the Armenian Relief Society's Western region headquarters paid $18,000 for a full page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times. So far, response has been disappointing, DerMegerdichian said. The organization received about 200 new donation pledges Sunday and Monday, about twice the number of the preceding two days, but she said response has leveled off since then.

Ads Placed

The advertisement was one of several placed by Armenian groups in various newspapers that day. The Armenian General Benevolent Union, a charitable organization affiliated with a different branch of the Armenian church than the Relief Society, also placed a full-page advertisement in The Times. And the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church placed a similar advertisement with its own money in the New York Times.

At St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church on South Central Boulevard in Glendale, a blood drive sponsored by the Relief Society and the American Red Cross began Tuesday. The blood drive was initiated by the Relief Society as a way for the Armenian community to thank the Red Cross for its help in the disaster relief effort, Glendale Chapter Chair Anoush Karapetian said.

'Responsible to Help'

"We feel responsible to help," Karapetian said through an interpreter Tuesday. "We know. We saw on TV that the Red Cross was there. What they did for us was really good."

Hundreds of Glendale Armenians signed up for appointments to donate blood at their churches Sunday, Red Cross officials said. And the editors of local Armenian newspapers have written articles urging community members to participate in the drive.

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